Knitting with Breast Intentions

New volunteer program, Knitted Knockers, provides cotton breast prosthetics for cancer survivors

By Molly Priddy
Karen Lauer works on a pair of Knitted Knockers at Woolen Collectibles in Kalispell on April 6, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Sitting around the table at Woolen Collectibles in Kalispell, four women did what artisans have traditionally done for centuries: knitted and chatted, making no big deal of the amazing creations spooling into being at their fingertips.

But instead of the typical treasures made with yarn, such as sweaters or hats or scarves, the rhythmic click-clack of needles heralded something simple yet sincerely meaningful, in the way only a gift to a complete stranger can be.

And because of the inherent intimacy of these gifts, they’re all the more special: each woman knitting at the table was creating a cotton breast prosthesis, to be sent to a breast cancer survivor who has undergone mastectomies or other procedures to the breast.

Woolen Collectibles is now the site of Montana’s outlet for Knitted Knockers, a national organization of volunteer knitters making soft, comfortable, and beautiful prosthetics for free to anyone who requests them.

Tammy Thompson, owner at the shop, said she decided to start the program here because her mother heard about it from a friend whose daughter recently passed away after a battle with breast cancer.

“I noticed no one in Montana was doing it,” Thompson said, her hands keeping pace with her knitting while she made eye contact with a visitor.

Each prosthetic is made from cotton or acrylic yarn with a polyfill batting, making them lightweight, breathable, and soft. Other prostheses are usually expensive, heavy, can get sweaty, and can be uncomfortable, and they can require special bras or camisoles.

Knitted Knockers are about comfort, Thompson said, while also maintaining the shape and general feel of a breast. They can be made for cups sizes A through E, and the wearer has the latitude of customizing it for their life; the pieces are adjustable, and can facilitate more or less batting or added weight.

As the sole Knitted Knockers group in the state so far, Thompson’s stable of volunteer knitters will send the cotton prostheses to anyone in Montana who requests them. Having just started up in March, they sent their first set out last week to a person in Ronan.

“It’s all totally free,” she said.

Woolen Collectibles hosts a weekly gathering for those interested in knitting for the program, meeting from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. Last week, the participants included Karen Lauer, who said she heard of the opportunity through a ski buddy.

“It just sounded like one, a worthy cause, and two, a fun group,” Lauer said. “And it’s kind of fun to tell people you’re making knockers.”

Jo Ann Jensen said she’s been coming to the open knitting sessions for a while now, and had just decided to try out the knockers’ pattern.

“I haven’t done the Knitted Knockers yet, this is new,” Jensen said. “I think it’s great.”

Thompson said anyone interested in participating doesn’t necessarily have to come to the weekly sessions to knit. The patterns are available online and at Woolen Collectibles and can easily be done at home, she said.

“It takes people, once they get going, about three hours,” Thompson said.

Each woman at the knitting table said they know someone who has been affected by breast cancer, and that awareness is important, but so is action. So being able to help through a hobby they already love is a win-win situation, they said.

Regular knitters might also find another benefit to making these special pieces, Thompson said.

“They’re kind of fun to knit, and you can use up your [yarn] stash,” she said, laughing.

For more information on Knitted Knockers, visit www.knittedknockers.org. Woolen Collectibles is located at 183 First Ave. E in Kalispell; for more information, visit www.woolencollectibles.com or call 406-756-8746.